Behaviourism is Dead, how do we tell the Autism parents? Only An Ancient Science Can Save Your Child…!?!?!

Or so they tell us.

As soon as an autistic child is diagnosed, doctors bombard the parents with frightening forecasts and gloomy outlooks.

The only thing that can save their child from a lifetime of friendlessness and unemployment is the “gold standard for autism treatment” – Behaviorism.

Sometimes it is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy. Other times it is called Intensive Behavioral Intervention (IBI) or just Behavioral Intervention.

Either way, it is commonly touted as the only truly effective and science-based treatment for autism.

It makes no sense to try to train children out of a neurodevelopmental condition. It makes no sense to engage in methods which have long ago been proven to be detrimental to child development, like adult-directed play or extrinsic reward systems. 

After all, the child is already developmentally delayed. It seems like we should be focusing on methods shown to promote development, not ones proven to hinder it.

Applied Behavior Analysis treats itself like a scientific cult. It uses terms like “evidence based” and “science-based” as though the last fifty years of psychology and neurology threw science to the wind. 

Even ABA’s scientific methods are out of date.

Behavior analysis keeps publishing more and more studies confirming that yes, rewarding behaviors usually increases their frequency and yes, punishing behaviors tends to decrease their frequency.

We’ve known that since 1938 but whatever, I guess they still aren’t completely sure.

Maybe they don’t thing B.F. Skinner thoroughly covered this subject already, or they aren’t sure if autistic kids are as smart as Skinner’s pigeons.

In a day and age where a reliable evidence-base requires successfully replicated trials with large subject numbers and control groups, ABA journals continue to publish case studies, as if they don’t realize that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.”

Many ABA journal articles puzzle and ponder over behavior which is perfectly understandable to anyone who has education in modern sciences.

Like this study, which tried an unusual method of stopping dogs from jumping up, and discovered that it was slightly effective.

Never mind that this problem is so simple to solve that I can do it in ten minutes without so much as touching the dog. It’s one of my favourite party tricks when I meet new clients – right up there with getting their three-month-old puppy to ignore steak on a plate. 

It’s clear from the text of this study that Dunning-Kruger is in full effect. In the introduction, the researchers express surprise that ABA techniques are not used more often by dog trainers, considering how similar our two fields are.

In response to that, I refer to my entire body of work on NeuroClastic, not to mention their very own study which wasted an impressive amount of time trying to find a “function” for a behavior which is very well understood already.

A more dramatic example, though, is this article.

They performed a functional analysis on a dog who guards his food to find out why he did it.

…But we already know why dogs do this. We also know what to do about it.  

I don’t need to perform a functional analysis to tell someone why their dog is guarding its food. I already know the causes of this behavior because I know the ethology (science of natural behavior) of dogs.